There is much that I could say regarding the Emerging Church. It was a big movement a few years back, but it has now lost much of its momentum, probably due to many of the heretical tendencies within it. Many members of my own Church appear to have been heavily influenced by some pastors from the emerging movement, like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. In a Christianity Today article a few years back, Scot McKnight listed 5 ‘streams’ which together made up the emerging Church movement. The article can be found here. Looking back on the movement, I will be interacting with those five streams and stating where I agree and disagree with them as approaches to how we do Church.
1. Prophetic (or at least provocative) rhetoric
“Our language frequently borrows the kind of rhetoric found in Old Testament prophets like Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). Hosea engages here in deliberate overstatement, for God never forbids Temple worship.”
I half agree with this one – I think a bit of overstatement can be biblical. However, there is a time for overstatement and a time for clarity. We have to bear in mind that the words of pastors in the 21st century are not infallible like those of Jesus and the prophets. If someone asks a straight question, they usually deserve a straight answer. Of course, Jesus often answered the Pharisees in highly rhetorical ways; however, we must bear in mind that these people had set out to murder him – this is not the norm for western Christians! The epistles of the New Testament and the Law of the Old contain a lot of straight talk.
2. Postmodern thinking
“Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science or Marxism.”
I think it can be extremely useful to bring out all of our underlying assumptions and to question the popular metanarratives of our day. In this regard, it is ironic (to say the least) that the emerging types seemed prone to blindly accepting the inherited sociological framework of Evolution.
I think that a postmodern suspicion of overly simplistic metanarratives was one of the great strengths of the emerging movement. It just seems unfortunate that the Emerging Church movement was on the whole more interested in critiquing Christian metanarratives than in critiquing the popular secular one.
“Evangelicals sometimes forget that God cares about sacred space and ritual—he told Moses how to design the tabernacle and gave detailed directions to Solomon for building a majestic Temple.”
I love this one. In Revelation 4-5, there is a scene of heavenly worship. And in that worship there are robes, incense, prostration, lots of stringed instruments, chanting and the like. Why isn’t our worship this holistic? Of course, the way we worship should not be chaotic, but thoroughly prepared and carefully orchestrated – like the sacred feasts of Israel. However, I see no reason why worship can’t involve the whole person and at the same time be conducted in an orderly fashion. But let’s keep the bible central here, as everywhere.
“No systematic theology can be final. In this sense, the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, ‘This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.’”
As a reformed postmillennialist, I can get behind this. I think the evangelical conception of the Church and the Kingdom of God can be a little too static at times. So long as we are clear regarding the Gospel message, I don’t see why our understanding cannot change and even improve as time goes by. However, we must stick by the creeds and be prepared to die for the Gospel.
5. Political Gospel
“I don’t think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do.”
I think there has been confusion here between the roles of Church and state. The Church is commanded to disciple the nations – that’s what the great commission means. We are to help the poor, to free the oppressed and to heal the sick. The state, however, has not been given this duty. They are simply given authority to punish evildoers (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2).
I think this confusion between Church and state has caused problems for both the Christian left and the Christian right. The Christian left has correctly emphasised the Church’s duty to help those in need, but all too often has advocated high taxes and wealth redistribution – stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor. The bible rightly denounces theft, and Christians should not be encouraging it. The Christian right on the other hand has advocated low taxes and decentralised government, but has often ignored the biblical requirement for the Church to help those in need.
All in all though, I don’t believe that politics belongs in the pulpit. Neither Jesus nor Paul was centrally concerned with the affairs of the world; rather, what went on in the Church was most important. The Church is new wine bursting old wineskins. Let’s make it the best wine possible!